Khalid Jamil has been named the head coach of NorthEast United. Officially. For a coach who’s won an I-League title with Aizawl FC, managed East Bengal and Mohun Bagan and kept a team like Mumbai FC in the top-flight for six straight years despite having a very low budget at his disposal, landing a job in the country’s top-tier league shouldn’t, in an ideal world, be a matter of great significance.

But in Jamil’s case, he will become the first Indian head coach to be appointed head coach of the Indian Super League on a permanent basis. Now, that is very significant.

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It’s quite remarkable that Indian coaches were, till recent seasons, not allowed to take charge of ISL teams. It was only last season that teams were free to sign an Indian as the head coach. The rationale behind having foreign coaches at the helm of affairs at the teams to aid the development of Indian players barely made sense in the initial few seasons. But, better late than never, the necessary course correction has been made and the ISL will see an Indian head coach lead a team into the new campaign.

Jamil has already shown what he’s capable of. Last season, appointed midway in an interim role, he orchestrated a fine comeback at NorthEast United that saw them qualify for the semi-finals for only the second time in their history. But what he does in the upcoming campaign could be even more significant for Indian football.

The men’s national team has not had an Indian as a head coach for over a decade. The results with foreign coaches have been mixed, but the belief to stick with overseas coaches has seemingly remained unperturbed. The number of foreign coaches in the I-League, previously the top-tier league of Indian football has also increased.

So, Jamil landing the NorthEast United job provides a ray of hope for Indian coaches who have lacked the necessary platform to showcase their skills.

Tactical aspect

The biggest question marks over Indian coaches is their ability to match up with the foreign coaches tactically. But with the coaching licenses, Indians are also well versed with modern coaching techniques.

Sixteen Indian coaches have acquired the AFC Pro License which is equivalent to Uefa’s highest coaching license. Names like Derrick Pereira, Thangboi Singto, Savio Madeira and Bino George feature in this list along with Jamil. Apart from gaining the top license, these coaches have also proven themselves with their performance in the I-League.

However, Indian coaches in ISL have been limited to an assistant role or a job at the academy level.

Jamil proved last season that Indian coaches can compete with the best in the ISL as his NorthEast United team, which was not the strongest on paper, gave Antonio Habas’ ATK Mohun Bagan a run for their money in the semi-final. The Spaniard has been one of the most successful coaches in the ISL and Jamil’s men ran them close despite their underdog status.

Jamil also got the best out of his foreign players, putting to rest any doubts of Indian coaches failing to command the dressing room.

Indian connection

A lot of foreign coaches have failed in India due to the lack of understanding of Indian football, the players and their culture. It’s an area where Indian coaches can bring a lot more to the table, not just in terms of recruitment but also in terms of extracting performances from Indian players.

Apuia excelled under Jamil last season and now finds himself an integral part of the national team. Jamil has had a reputation of grooming young Indian players throughout his career. The same can be said of Singto, who during his time at Shillong Lajong helped many youngsters make the jump from youth level to the senior level. Perreira, who is now the technical director of FC Goa, also can be credited for developing many young Indian players.

“He (Jamil) knows his Indian players and their skillsets very well and has a knack for bringing out the very best in them. If you see his teams over the years, it’s these Indian players that have got him the results,” former India international Paresh Shivalkar had said about Jamil.

There is no doubt over foreign coaches’ ability to improve Indian players, but there is equally no reason to doubt why Indian coaches, especially with a track record like Jamil and Singto, won’t be able to do an equally fine if not a better job.

Setting a precedent

Jamil’s performance next season can be pathbreaking. If he is able to live up to the expectations, it will give the other ISL clubs more incentive to appoint an Indian coach, which could make a difference financially too. In the long run, it can also help the ISL clubs in devising a more sustained model of operation without having to lose out on the coaching expertise which, if not many, certainly a bunch of emerging coaches can provide.

The likes of Singto, Naushad Moosa, Syed Sabir Pasha, and Clifford Miranda are already part of the ISL setup and Jamil’s appointment can be the trigger to bringing more of these coaches in the topmost posts at their clubs.

India needs coaches across the board and age-group levels, but ultimately, there needs to be a pathway for young coaches to have a professional career at the top level. A coaching opportunity in the ISL, now the country’s top division, will certainly provide that impetus to more youngsters and even former players to take the plunge into coaching. That will in turn not just help ISL clubs have more options but also help the overall football community as there will be more number of quality coaches at junior level as well.

There is a lot on interest in Indian players’ performance in the ISL, and in a season when every team will have an extra Indian player on the field, having an Indian coach right from the outset in permanent capacity will make the league feel a little bit more Indian than it has been too.

While the contribution of foreign coaches in the ISL and Indian football is crucial, adding local talent in the fray will only help the league add more dimension to the competition. Whether Jamil’s appointment brings more Indian coaches into the fray at the highest level remains to be seen, but it’s certainly a start.